WikiEdProfessional eLearning Guidebook/Online-learning management systems/Limitations of contemporary LMSs

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Limitations of contemporary LMSs

[Note: The limitations of contemporary LMSs that are raised in the following segment as well as elsewhere in this chapter were first raised in a discussion paper by Dr. Kemi Jona of Cognitive Arts, a Chicago-based e-learning organization. These limitations have been adapted and reproduced here from his unpublished discussion paper titled “Learning Management Systems: A focus on management, not learning”].

I think that one of the greatest faux pas of virtually all contemporary LMSs has been their tendency to emulate, as best as possible, conventional classroom-based learning and teaching practices. In beginning with conventional classroom-based practices as the standard the developers of LMSs have continued to perpetuate the many pitfalls of these educational settings. This equates to a false start for LMSs, because developers have failed to capitalize on the critical attributes of LMS tools. These include features such the flexibility it can afford, the variety of interaction it can support, and the type of study materials it can incorporate. Many contemporary LMSs tend to put learners in a rather passive role, where they can read large amounts of textual material, and engage in on-line discussions. This does not offer much more than what is possible in a conventional classroom setting. Many of these LMSs lack the tools and capability to engage learners and teachers in the development of complex cognitive and social skills, such as those that involve collaboration, professional judgment and decision-making and where there are many potential solutions, and no single straightforward answers.

There is no doubt that many of the contemporary LMSs provide excellent tools for managing learning throughout an organization, however, if not carefully used, they can actually lead to a degradation in the quality and effectiveness of learning (Jona, na). Many LMSs comprise templates for the creation of online course content. These tools help teachers design and create courses easily and quickly in a familiar environment without the need for much training. These built-in authoring tools are fine if one needs to quickly build an online-learning environment where discussion and debate are central to understanding and knowledge building. However, they are rather insufficient for creating online-learning courses, where there is a need to develop knowledge of subject matter such as mathematics and science, which require illustration and demonstration.

Moreover, most contemporary LMSs tend to operate as “page-turning” online which consists of a typically linear sequence of screens containing chunks of information (Jona, nd). The level of user interactivity in this activity consists of simply clicking a button or hyperlink to proceed to the next screen. Although sometimes animations, audio, or video elements are added to these sequence of screens, the underlying model of the course that is built using these tools is very uninteresting and a rather poor substitute for conventional classroom-based practices (Jona, nd).

Another feature of LMSs, which is claimed as a key benefit, is their ability to track learning activities. Most contemporary LMSs have the capability to collect, organize and report data on learners’ activities. These may include data on time spent on a learning activity, when it was started and completed, and number of attempts at an assessment item. The main problem with this kind of tracking of the details of a learner’s activities in an online-learning course eliminates a key benefit that this environment affords, which is the creation of a safe environment that frees students from the fear of failure and the pressure of time that is endemic of a conventional classroom. It is possible that learners who know that every time they click something is being tracked and recorded, they are probably likely to feel less comfortable experimenting, taking chances, and pushing the limits of their knowledge. It is possible that instead of learning from their own mistakes, they will work to avoid making any mistakes at all (Jona, nd).


  • Reflect upon the foregoing complaints leveled against many of the contemporary e-learning management systems.

Tell us a story

  • In your experience, are they justifiable? If not, then why not? Can you relate any experience (your own or that of your colleagues) that reflects the power or otherwise of anyone of these or other features of an e-learning management system?

The perfect LMS is still evolving

As users become more knowledgeable and comfortable with the use of LMS, they are beginning to demand advanced features and functionality, including support for wireless devices, better collaborative learning tools, and better content management capabilities. The next-generation of LMSs will have to have improved functionalities, customizability, flexibility, interoperability, and scalability (Jona, na). Moreover, as users move beyond the thrills and frills of the technology, they are also focusing attention on the educational functions of the tools. This augurs well for both the developers and novice users, as it signals the development of robust learning management systems that are guided by pedagogical considerations and not by what the developers or the tools can do.

Selecting a learning management system

Selecting the right online-learning management system and achieving a successful implementation is a large undertaking. This is particularly so for organizations which have historically relied on conventional classroom-based approaches to learning and teaching. Evaluating the many associated issues that contribute to the acquisition of a comprehensive LMS and ensuring that the organizational infrastructure is able to support it is a major challenge. Fortunately, help is freely available form a variety of sources (see for instance the following:;

Foremost, the selection of an online learning management system needs to be an integral part of an overall strategic e-learning plan for the organization. A first step in the LMS decision-making process is to define the learning and teaching goals of an organization and how it seeks to pursue those goals. Being clear about the values and the goals that an organization seeks to promote in relation to learning and teaching will allow one to ascertain how closely an off-the-shelf LMS aligns with those values and goals. The next step in the process is to investigate all reasonable options by seeking information from potential vendors, as each will certainly offer different features, functionality, support strategies, and costs. Once you have this information, you are in a position to ascertain the suitability of selected systems for your organizational needs.

There are several options when deciding to purchase an LMS. These include:

  • Purchasing an off-the-shelf LMS and using it as is;
  • Purchasing an off-the-shelf LMS and modifying it;
  • Having a LMS custom-developed for your needs; and
  • Developing your own LMS based on the architecture of The Open Knowledge Initiative.

Of course, the best option for anyone will depend upon their readiness, budget, how closely an off-the shelf LMS program supports their unique needs, and their overall e-learning plan. It is very likely that no single off-the-shelf LMS program will have all the features or performs all the functions required to comply a 100% with all of anyone’s needs. Selecting the right LMS is very user specific and involves a series of tradeoffs between user needs, capabilities and the suppliers of the technology.


  • Reflect upon the implications (benefits and costs etc.) of adopting the use of an e-learning management system.

Tell us a story

  • Can you relate any experience (your own or that of your colleagues) in the adoption and use of an e-learning management system?

Web Resources

Learning Management Systems (LMS)

Methodology of LMS 2002





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Key points

  • Learning management systems (LMSs) are software applications that comprise a suite of tools for learning and teaching online. Some of the widely known LMSs are: WebCT, Blackboard, Moodle.
  • Most LMSs have tools for creating content (authoring tools), organizing them and delivering online. LMSs are useful for supporting communication among learners and also tracking and reporting their progress.
  • A key limitation of contemporary LMSs is their tendency to emulate the conventional campus-based classroom-based learning and teaching process.
  • The selection of LMS depends on strategic planning, budget, technological readiness and value systems of an organization.

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